Missing Peace & The Fabled Second Album

by nielskunze on April 10, 2016

Missing Peace Live Backdrop

Missing Peace Live Backdrop

(Ben Jeffreys (sp?) – CJAY92 FM Calgary)

Aye, that’s the rub. The above soundbite was uttered by popular DJ, Ben Jeffreys, at Calgary’s biggest rock station in early 1997 right after we played a song, So I, ‘live’ in the radio station’s studio to conclude a half-hour interview about the release of our first album Tense Moments. (These things don’t really go live on the air; they’re rather pre-recorded and played at the scheduled time… but you don’t get any do-overs and no editing allowed, so it might as well be live.)

Shit! That was almost 20 years ago. We were just getting started… and things were going pretty well. I mean, we were on the radio! And not just some tiny community-funded local station, but the biggest rock station in the goddam city! AND… right after the interview was concluded, Ben told us that the station had just officially made the switch from vinyl to CD, so their entire vinyl library was up for grabs. “Go nuts. Take whatever you want.”

Seriously, an accumulation of records from the last 30 years, shelved and catalogued in its own room across from the DJ booth, was free for the taking. That’s just the kind of serendipity that Missing Peace had already grown accustomed to. Collectively, we had that kind of luck.

There were thousands of records. I wanted to back the touring van up to the back door and load up the whole thing… but that wasn’t practical. Actually, we only had about 15 minutes to grab whatever we could think to snatch. We had places to be, people to see, appointments to keep. Things were happening; we were a band on the move. We grabbed whatever was comfortable to carry, and we were quickly on our way…

Like I said, that was 1997. We figured maybe two years– tops– before we’d have the next album out. We had plenty of material… and the set lists were growing every day. And besides, things had a peculiar habit of working out for us… even in spite of our derelict rock’n-roller ways.

But alas, somewhere along the way the magic ran out. We’d used up all of our free passes, it seemed. We took a pretty decent run at the second album in and around 1999. That was at the local studio just having been set up by our temporary replacement guitar guru, Russ Brent. (Cory had left us for a year to explore his options with a popular cover band; he needed a steady paycheque, and had grown weary of having to keep his day job. We couldn’t blame him, and besides, Russ was one helluva lead guitar player!)

We tried to lay beds for at least a dozen songs– some with our original drummer, David, and some with our new drummer Christopher. (So there was that whole transition going on too.) At the end of the day, there were only 4 songs that were deemed worthy of overdubs and eventual full production; the rest were tragically flawed for one reason or another. Four songs do not a CD make!

(Whitman’s Gauntlet – from the “Russ Sessions”)

Here, have a listen as you continue reading. It’s good… but it wasn’t always. The original mixes of those four songs from Russ’ had some serious issues– nothing to do with the recorded tracks, just with how they were finally mixed. The vocals were so overbearing that the songs were nearly unlistenable. There was a problem with Russ’ playback system. What we were hearing during mix-down was NOT the mix being finalized. It was only when we took those recordings home to be played on our own home stereos that we discovered the problem. And due to circumstances beyond our control, we never had the opportunity to remix them again with Russ. For a very long time we were stuck with very bad mixes of very good songs… and that was a bummer!

It was many years later, 2013 I think, when we finally secured the source recordings from Russ and took a shot at remixing those songs. They had been recorded using Cubase software and were stored as multi-track recordings on CDs. I tried loading them into my own home digital multi-track recording system… but many of the tracks weren’t placed in the appropriate places– meaning that short tracks that were little add-ons and embellishments all played simultaneously at the beginning of the song. They had to be manually moved to their appropriate places one by one. My digital system lacks a visual display of the sound waves. For such a task requiring absolute precision, a visual guide was essential.

Fortunately, a good friend and fellow musician who lived nearby, Bill Rainbow, had a recording studio in his house, and he happened to employ Cubase as his recording system. Even though it was the same recording software, just different versions, the songs still didn’t load properly in terms of track placement. We still had to move dozens of tracks to their appropriate places in the songs. Bill and I spent quite a number of hours reconstructing two of the four songs– the one offered above, and this next one below.

(Handful of Sand – from the “Russ Sessions”)

In Whitman’s above, all guitar players are featured. I’m the main acoustic, playing my 12-string, with Russ adding the accents and embellishments throughout on clean electric guitar. And then Cory added the dirty electric during the choruses after Bill and I had reconstructed the song in 2013. As for Handful, again it’s my 12-string leading the way with a simple picking pattern and chord progression. And then it’s Russ soloing the shit out of it in the fast part at the end. We’re quite happy with these two reconstructions.

As for the other two songs from the “Russ Sessions”, Bill and I found the task of trying to reconstruct those just too daunting. The best that I could do was to run them through a couple of mastering algorithms to try and smooth out some of the worst imbalances. “The Ride” sounds almost normal, while “Stop” has a most peculiar ‘wall of sound’ against which Shane’s vocal batters and wails until the final death throes of the dying beast is laid to rest at the end. (You’ll just have to get your hands on the new record to see– or rather, hear– what I mean.) “Stop” is the only song on the new album which features our original drummer David Shaw. All the rest are Christopher J. Howse– yes, THE Christopher J.

So now let’s rewind to the turn of the millennium. By the year 2000, I had grown rather weary of touring with Missing Peace. While out on the road, I found myself most often wishing that I was home, working on other projects, particularly my writing. (My second book, Butterfly Dreams, was already long overdue in 2000 and I didn’t even get it finished and published until 2005.) In that last year of the second millennium, I authored a rather excellent resignation letter to my bandmates. I don’t think that it really came as much of a surprise. They knew I’d had enough in general, and the four remaining members of Missing Peace– Ian, Shane, Cory and Chris– were more than capable of continuing without me. The band had already begun heavily leaning in the direction of a much heavier sound… and I had always been the acoustic, folkier influence.

During my tenure with Missing Peace, I had learned most of the tricks of the sound-engineer/recording-engineer trade. I had a bit of a knack for it and I really enjoyed it. Collectively, by the year 2000, we additionally figured that we knew enough about proper recording procedures to finally produce the second album ourselves.

We daisy-chained two ADAT recorders together to provide 16 simultaneous track recording, ran a snake between the house and the detached garage/jam hall, and ran everything through the Mackie 24 by 4 mixing board, in what was easily the most complex audio arrangement I had ever presided over. Everyone was provided headphones… and Chris listened to a metronome click in his headphones to help keep the songs scrupulously on tempo. (Unfortunately, he needed the click so loud that during the quietest moments, when there was just enough drum noise to hold the noise gates open, the click could be heard bleeding through onto the drum mics… something I would spend hours of frustration trying to clean up in the ensuing years.)

We laid the beds for quite a number of songs– like almost 20 of them, I think. When laying beds, the only thing that really matters is that the drum tracks are virtually perfect. The rest of the instruments and vocals are just there to provide structure and an energy dynamic for later overdubs of everything. So far so good…

Then some things happened. With me deciding to leave the band, I kinda left the overdubs in the hands of the remaining members– meaning that I wouldn’t be there to supervise the overdub sessions. They were each given their turn with the recording equipment and expected to provide the overdubs of their respective parts.

Recording can be intimidating at the best of times. Without an active recording engineer taking charge, the scary task of overdubbing languished in prolonged procrastination. It became a source of infighting among the remaining members of the band. “Just do your parts, for fuck’s sake!” was a popular refrain at the time. Eventually, it was the straw that broke Ian’s resolve. He too authored a fine resignation letter to his bandmates, and in 2001 Missing Peace was done– defunct. We still had every intention of completing the album– we told ourselves, me included– but Missing Peace was no longer a performing band… the enthusiasm had reached an all-time low.

And then something most unexpected happened. On May 30, 2001, just as the band was winding up its last hoorah with its touring schedule, I went out on a psychedelic adventure with two friends that afternoon, partaking of ayahuasca for the first– and only– time. Three of us went out that afternoon… but only two came back. One of my dear friends died that afternoon right before my eyes. That is easily the most intense occurrence of my life, as his spirit flew up from the river valley and his body fell into Dutch Creek.

I languished emotionally in a surreal mix of survivor guilt and outright astonishment for at least a couple of years. “Did that really happen?!!” Indeed, it had.

The band didn’t put any pressure on me to resume work on the album… and it was nearly forgotten altogether. At some point we realized that the superVHS tapes which were the source recordings for the album were subject to slow degradation, and I did manage to transfer everything to a more secure and permanent digital medium– my Zoom multi-track digital studio.

Eventually, I would get back to the album. I could offer up a long list of excuses why I kept pushing it off thereafter, but the main obstacle was that I was wholly unfamiliar with digital processing of recorded material. During my days with the band, I learned through experience how to process sound using analogue equipment. I knew exactly fuck all about doing the same thing with digital algorithms. The learning curve I was suddenly facing was enormous and treacherously steep. Anyone who’s ever gotten a new piece of highly-complex software knows that the only way to really learn how to use it is through many many hours of experience.

Okay, I’m fully up to speed now with digital processing, mixing and mastering. I learned it… and it’s fun! I went back to all those recordings, wondering if there was material for an actual album there worth assembling. Many of the tracks had never been overdubbed. Most of the vocals were scratch tracks or practice runs. But in the listening, and with a few tweaks, it appeared that we could still salvage this thing… these many years later.

The band is scattered throughout BC. Finishing the overdubs wasn’t really a viable option. Most of the tracks were good. Sure, there were glitches, but there was way too much really good stuff to toss the whole thing in the bin. Cory came over a few times to add some choice guitar parts (he only lives 20 minutes away from me). And Chris added some cymbal shots here and there to help cover the click track bleed-throughs (he lives about a half hour away). Ian and Shane are way out on the coast, so adding new parts from them posed some serious inconveniences. We did grab some new vocal attempts a couple of years ago during Shane’s 40th birthday in Nanaimo…

Anyway, the long-awaited, fabled second album is done… and we like it! I don’t think we’re trying to make any excuses; it’s a good album after all. I’ve previewed a couple of songs from the “Russ Sessions” here for you (those two had been soft-released previously over the years as poorly mixed versions, so I don’t mind including them here). All 4 of those are on the album along with others from our independent sessions at home. The rest of the album is quite a bit heavier and raunchier… but still tasteful and melodic.

The album will be officially released on Mother’s Day, May 8th, 2016. We will also be celebrating my 50th birthday on that day at our local restaurant/pub The Hoodoos. My former bandmates have all agreed to a reunion gig on that date to launch the CD release. Please come join us if you’re able. This thing was 16 years in the making– the CD, that is; I was fully 50 years in the making, and I’m not done yet!

Check it out… it’s all about passion and fun!

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